It was a just matter of time before things started swinging in Toronto’s direction. After starting the season 2-8, the Raptors have won 10 of their last 15 games. They have also won four of the last five, including an impressive win against the three-headed monster of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, they are 4-1 on this road trip, and more importantly, their best players have found their groove.
Pascal Siakam has struggled all season from three but has drained eight of his last 12. Chris Boucher, who had hit a mini slump, has posted three straight double-doubles. Fred VanVleet started the road trip in Orlando by setting a franchise record 54 points in a win. Norman Powell has been a beacon of consistency since he was inserted into the starting lineup. Most everything has been going right with the Raptors for the past little while.
Last 6 games for Pascal Siakam:— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) February 11, 2021
50% from the field
43% from 3
86% from the line
Toronto is 5-1 in those games
The Eastern Conference has been hectic all season, with the 11th placed Miami Heat just three games behind the third-place Brooklyn Nets. Despite being outside the playoff picture for most of the early season, the Raptors have now a mere game back of the Boston Celtics after their win against the Wizards last night. Consider this: Toronto, winners of just two games in a row, are currently tied for the second longest winning streak in the conference.
These early season matchups against East rivals could weigh a lot more than normal considering how bunched up all the teams are in relation to one another. A win against the Celtics, who have been struggling as of late and are just 4-6 in their last 10, could help even the season series in what could be an important early season seeding battle.
After 10 games, few thought Toronto would be pushing for homecourt in the first round, but here we are. Tonight’s game against the Celtics could be very important in the long run.
Here are the details for the game.
Where to Watch:
TSN4, 7:30 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Boston – Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis, Tristian Thompson
Toronto – OG Anunoby (calf – day-to-day), Yuta Watanabe (ankle – day-to-day), Patrick McCaw (knee – OUT)
Boston – Marcus Smart (calf – OUT), Romeo Langford (wrist – OUT)
Toronto’s recent success has come down to the team’s ability to play more complete games. Early season struggles were caused by the bench (besides Boucher) being nearly unplayable for longer than four minute stretches. However, since the start of the road trip — and even with OG Anunoby out of the lineup due to a calf injury — a new player has emerged as an option.
DeAndre’ Bembry’s game has quietly been making an impact all over the court for the Raptors. On one end, he’s defending the likes of Trae Young, Bradley Beal, and Ja Morant, while also ripping the ball out of Jonas Valanciunas’s hands. On the other end, he’s making timely cuts, excellent passes (including a great pocket pass that lead to a Boucher dunk last night) and hitting the occasional three. Bembry was not initially among Toronto’s consistent bench players this season but he’s made a case for himself with his play on this road trip.
It hasn’t been a great start to the season for Kemba Walker. The 2020 All-Star has been struggling after missing the team’s first 11 games due to an offseason knee procedure. His numbers across the board have declined and he’s shooting just under 31 percent from distance. Boston’s recent struggles have coincided with his return, having won only three of the 10 games in which he has featured.
What’s next for the former UConn stand out? Walker was Boston’s premier free agent signing just a year ago. Should he just shoot his way through it? In his last two games, he has shot a combined 6-for-32 from the floor. The emergence of Jaylen Brown this season could make it difficult for Walker to take back the offensive load awarded to Brown due to his early season absence. But Brad Stevens and the Celtics must make it work if they want to maximize their title hopes this season.
The Future at the Two
News of Kyle Lowry listing his Toronto home up for sale has surfaced this week and it should not be surprising. The Lowry era, the most successful in Raptors history, will be coming to an end. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and with VanVleet locked up for the next four seasons, it’s unlikely he’ll be in Toronto for the long-term. That said, who’s up next for the two-spot? Free agent targets could include Lonzo Ball, whose high-level defense and playmaking make him an excellent fit beside Fred VanVleet. Or Victor Oladipo, whose two-way talent would mesh well with OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, albeit at a steeper price.
However, the natural response should be internal and that’s Norman Powell. He’s turned a corner with his consistency dating back to the 2019-20 season. Powell has scored 20+ in eight of the last nine contests — all starts — and has been averaging just under 16 points per game on the season. We have yet to see how things will go when Anunoby returns from injury (does Powell return to the bench? Does Anunoby start at the 5?), but for now Powell is playing his best basketball this season. His contract is on the books for next season, so we should get a better picture by then.